Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fondacaro is the best thing in 'Sideshow'

Sideshow (2000)
Starring: Phil Fondacaro, Jamie Martz, Michael Amos, Jessica Keenan, Scott Clark, Jeana Blackman, and Brinke Stevens
Director: Fred Olen Ray
Producers: Charles Band and Gary Schmoeller
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a group of teenagers insult the evil master of a travel sideshow (Fondacaro), he turns the force of his magical carnival upon them.

It's hard to go wrong with a creepy carnival/cursed freak show movie. All it requires are a cast of unpleasant "heroes" to serve as victims, neat costumes for sufficient gross circus freaks, and a charismatic and scary ring master to draw the elements together and deliver thrills and chills to a willing audience.

And Full Moon and Fred Olen Ray almost pull it off, producing a better movie than I would have expected based on the obscurity of "Sideshow" and the bringing together of the rapidly declining production capacities of Charles Band and a director whose output, up to that point, amounted to little more than a steaming pile of crap. In fact, this film marked a turning point for Ray, as his output seems to be slightly better in the 2000s than it was in the 1990s. OF course, it was also the final angle in a turning point for Band, as he was launched into a downward trajectory as fas as quality goes that continues to this day.

But with "Sideshow", director Olen and producer Band deliver most of what Full Moon fans have come to expect, as well as dread.

The cast of heroes/victims of the evil sideshow are an assortment of teenaged stereotypes, although only two of them are exactly what you'd expect. There's the over-sexed bully, who in less than ten minutes into the film is established as a misogynistic asshole who likes to pick on anyone and everything that isn't exactly like him, and there's the somewhat frumpy girl with the self-esteem problem that the popular and beautiful girl keeps around to make herself look more beautiful. The remaining three teens are just as one-dimensional, but they are slightly different spins on the characters we expect to find in this sort of film, so they bring a small degree of freshness to the proceedings. The two likely heroes--a pair of brothers who seem to be a little smarter than the other characters--turn out to be too flawed to fill those roles; one is too cowardly and the other turns out to be a spiritual weakling that's as easy prey for the carnival master as his friends. And the gorgeous popular girl, whom we expect to be slutty, is instead so in love with herself that she won't allow any dirty boys to lay a hand on her and taint her perfection. These are nice twists, and I think these characters could have been even more interesting, even if the script remained as relatively thin as it is, if they had been brought more fully to life by actors with talent beyond merely looking good and who perhaps were closer in age to the characters they're supposed to be playing. As with so many other Full Moon productions, we have actors in their mid to late twenties trying to pass for high school students and failing.

One thing that is done absolutely correctly here is that the film gets underway immediately and never breaks the forward momentum until the final frame. While I might have liked a little more development of some of the characters, I can also appreciate the fact that the film stayed focused and that no attempt was made to make it anything but a fast-moving B-picture about carnival freaks and obnoxious kids who get "what's they deserve."

On the unquestionable plus-side is the fact that the film's story gets underway immediately and there is no pause in forward momentum until the final frame.

We also have Phil Fondacaro turning in yet another great performance. He's not quite as good as he was in "The Creeps", but he pretty much owns this picture as he's the actor who brings any real personality to his role. If only the rest of the cast was as good as he is, this film might have been as entertaining as "Blood Dolls" or "Hideous!" (It might not be entirely fair to compare this film to those others, as they featured seasoned actors while everyone in a major role except Fondacaro has this movie as the first entry on their IMDB resumes. But the point still stands as a sound one... the off-kilter characters in this film required actors of more talent to do them proper justice.)

It also would have been nice if there had been just a little more money in the budget for bigger and more elaborate sets. However, Ray did make sure that every dollar he had at his disposal showed up on the screen. The creature effects and the sideshow freaks are all extremely well done for a film at this level. Some are outright gross, and I add this film to the list of those I regret watching while having dinner.

Fans of movies featuring freaks, or of the "classic Full Moon flavor" will find "Sideshow" a pleasant way to pass 70 minutes. Yes, it's lacking in some areas, but it's still lots of fun.

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